AIDA (10-28-06)

By Lawrence Budmen

Giuseppe Verdiís Aida, that grandest of grand operas, was an appropriately festive opener on October 28 for Florida Grand Operaís first season at the Carnival Centerís Stanford and Delores Ziff Opera House. Aida requires a cast of great voices, an opulent production, and visceral excitement in the ensemble scenes. Florida Grand Opera delivered the goods.

The opera houseís European grandeur is perfect for the large scale works of Verdi and Wagner. Voices have ring and presence. Like Wagnerís Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the vocal and orchestral sound seamlessly melds into a well balanced aural perspective.

In Allen Charles Kleinís lavish, eye filling sets and costumes, Bliss Hebert staged a striking production that respected tradition and allowed the singers to create rounded, three dimensional characters. 

Angela M. Brown created a sensation when she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Verdiís Ethiopian princess. Those plaudits were well deserved. In the Nile Scene aria O Patria Mia, Brownís shimmering pianissimos held the house enthralled but she could vault a high C to the rafters with ease. She received the biggest ovation of the evening. Brown is a major Verdi soprano with a soaring, expressive voice. 

When tenor Andrew Richards cancelled due to indisposition, Arnold Rawls (who was scheduled for three performances) took over the role of the Egyptian warrior Radames for the entire run. While not vocally heroic, Rawls possesses a firm, pliant lyric tenor with ringing high notes that easily dominated the ensembles. His Celeste Aida was distinguished by sweetness of timbre and emotional fervor. (There is a long history of lyric tenors singing this role Ė Bergonzi, Gigli, Bjoerling. Rawls follows that tradition.)

Guang Yang was an imperious Amneris, her regal bearing matched by a velvety mezzo voice. Gregg Baker brought nobility and suave baritonal warmth to the role of Amonasro, the Ethiopian king. As the High Priest Ramfis, Morris Robinson unfurled a dark, lava toned bass in the tradition of Boris Christoff. Valerian Ruminski was the vocally solid King of Egypt.

Stewart Robertson brought balletic fluidity and panoramic scope to Verdiís epic score, particularly in a high voltage Triumphal Scene. He coaxed polished, subtly colorful playing from the Florida Classical Orchestra and vociferous heft from Douglass Kinney Frostís excellent chorus.

Rosa Mercedesís attention grabbing choreography added Broadway pizzazz, especially a stunning solo turn for Stephanie Walz (formerly of Maximum Dance Company) in the Temple Scene.

The spectacular production and first rate performances combined for a landmark evening Ė the dawn of a new era for opera in Miami.

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